Electric Vehicle Sales in the United States: 2017 Half-Year Update

 In Electric Vehicle News

The U.S. electric vehicle (EV) market posted a solid first half (H1) of 2017, growing almost 40% year-over-year to 90,302 vehicles. If treated as one model, plug-in electric vehicles would have together been the 24th best-selling vehicle in the United States, ahead of the Subaru Forester (approx 88,000) but behind the Toyota Tacoma (approx 95,000).

EV Sales Overall

Breaking into the top 20 would have required selling about 100,000 units (nosing ahead of the Toyota Highlander) while hitting the top 10 would have required almost 160,000 sales, to pull ahead of the Ford Escape. And about 430,000 sales every six months — almost five times current levels — will be required for total plug-in electric vehicle market share to beat the Ford F-series’ 5% market share. (Hmm… if only there was an automaker audacious enough to help the market do just that.)

(As a side note, EVs are now at about 5% market share in California. Combined hybrid and plug-in electric vehicle market share has hovered around 9% for a few years, suggesting that EV growth has mainly come from hybrid owners.)

The Market Share Metric

While H1 2017’s roughly 90,000 plug-in electric vehicle sales were down slightly from the 93,000 or so in H2 2016, this was due to broader market trends: Americans don’t buy as many cars in January and February. So, while fewer plug-in electric vehicles were sold relative to the prior six months, EV market share increased slightly to 1.07%.  

EV Sales Overall Vehicle Sales Market Share
H1 2016 64,736 8,642,171 0.75%
H2 2016 93,476 8,905,483 1.05%
H1 2017 90,302 8,459,212 1.07%

As noted in FleetCarma’s end-of-2016 U.S. round-up, about half of electric vehicles’ sales gains in the second half of last year came from the Tesla Model S, Model X and Chevrolet Volt, which saw increases of about 5,000 units apiece in the back half of the year.

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While each of these models saw significant sales declines from H2 2016 to H1 2017, a year-over-year comparison probably offers us the most insight. And here, we see that the three together show modest year-over-year sales growth; the Tesla Model S is down a little, with the Volt up a bit. Model X sales rose a bit more, perhaps partially due to the “production hell” Tesla went through in early 2016.

 

H1 2016 H2 2016 H1 2017 H1 2017 – H2 2016 H1 2017 – H1 2016
Tesla Model S 12,090 16,731 11,195 -5,536 -895
Chevrolet Volt 9,808 14,931 10,932 -3,399 1,124
Tesla Model X 6,828 11,364 8,945 -2,419 2,117
All EVs 64,736 93,476 90,302 -3,174 25,566
EVs Introduced Before H1 2016 64,579 89,328 67,596 -21,732 3,017

Staircase to Success

With new models regularly entering the market, it can be difficult to assess the health and growth of the plug-in electric vehicle market: are sales increasing because more people are “converting” to existing EV models (business analysts might call this “organic growth”), or is it because more EV models are now available (“inorganic growth”)?

If we track the sales of EV models introduced before January 2016, we see that sales in the first half of 2017 were relatively flat, year-over-year. An increase of 3,017 sales over 64,579 is only about 5% growth. Also, even that increase is probably partly due to the teething issues for Tesla’s Model X.

In other words, almost all the increase in plug-in electric vehicle sales has come from newly-introduced models. The most prominent example in early 2017 has been the Toyota Prius Prime, whose 9,692 sales represent about two-fifths of H1 2017’s increase over H1 2016.

If sales of currently-available electric vehicle sales are relatively steady over time, that means the most effective way to increase market share is to introduce more EV options to the marketplace. Each of these new vehicles will find their own sales level, establishing a new (and relatively flat) electric vehicle sales baseline over time. This would make EV market share over time look like something of a staircase, with each newly-available model offering a larger or smaller step, depending on its popularity. Plug-in market share would then be something of a staircase to success.

Model by Model

At the half, the Tesla Model S, Chevy Volt, Toyota Prius Prime, Tesla Model X and Chevy Bolt led the pack, comprising a little bit more than half the market. The Model S, Model X and Volt sales trends were noted earlier, with the Bolt and Prius Prime being new entrants, and the latter indicated to be supply constrained, based on reported dealership inventory levels.

The Nissan Leaf and Ford Energi PHEVs (being the Fusion Energi and C-Max Energi respectively) follow. Leaf sales held up well (+1,455 or 25% over H1 2016) while the Fusion Energi endured a one-third sales drop, and the C-Max Energi a modest uptick.

The top ten was rounded out by the Fiat 500e, which increased sales by 2,005 units — 110% — year-over-year, by far the best among non-niche electric vehicles (where small sales improvements can drive high-percentage changes) and the BMW i3, which was relatively flat.

H1 EV Sales US

Monthly Results & Looking Forward

With traditionally-slow January and February both hitting five figures this year, the U.S. electric vehicle market may have had its last sub-10,000 sales month in February 2016. Plug-in electric vehicle market share topped one percent three times in the first half of 2017, in March (1.20%), May (1.12%) and June (1.18%).

US EV Sales Year and Month

Given that auto sales tend to be stronger in the second half, American plug-in electric vehicle sales should surpass 200,000 this year — topping 1% market share — even in the possible (probable?) event of Tesla Model 3 production delays.

As for when electric vehicles can hit 2% market share, much will depend on Tesla’s Model 3 and Nissan’s second-generation Leaf, the latter of which is rumored to undercut both the Model 3 and the Bolt on price. The long-awaited North American arrival of the Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV could also boost the electric segment, given car buyers’ current preference for crossovers and SUVs over sedans. Among vehicles in current production, the Prius Prime might have the greatest opportunity for growth.

Summary

  • At 90,302 units, U.S. EV sales were up about 40% year-over-year, though down about 3% from the second half of 2016.
  • EV market share continued to rise, reaching 1.07%; if treated as one model, EV sales would be at Toyota Tacoma / Subaru Forester levels.
  • Sales growth is mainly coming from newer models. The Toyota Prius Prime and Chevrolet Bolt exemplified this in early 2017, being responsible for two-thirds of the year-over-year increase in sales (17,300 out of 25,600).
  • The new “floor” for monthly EV sales is probably 10,000 per month. (With the upcoming Model 3 and second-generation Nissan Leaf, it may be considerably higher.)

Sources

EV sales data sourced from EV-Volumes.com, rounded out by the InsideEVs’ monthly scorecard.

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